IBM expected to expand line of AMD-based servers

It already offers low-end models with AMD chips

In an effort to compete with Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM is expected to announce plans tomorrow to expand its line of servers powered by chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

IBM already sells low-end servers with AMD's Opteron chips, so the move will allow the company to offer more choice in its high-end, commercial line.

IBM would not confirm the details of its planned announcement but said its systems division, responsible for designing servers and chips, would tout new products and partnerships in "our biggest announcement of the year," according to IBM spokeswoman Joanna Brewer.

At a planned press event in New York, the company will discuss "the future of IT innovation and emerging technologies that are transforming the data center."

Sun, a competitor in the server market, said the move would not help IBM win new market share, since Sun's Solaris operating system still holds an advantage in security and open-source development compared with IBM's AIX.

"Sun has a two-year head start and an even longer real-world advantage over Big Blue's x64 Opteron. Big Blue can't match up, let alone catch up, to Sun's awesome AMD-based systems," Larry Singer, Sun's senior vice president and strategic insights officer, said in a statement.

Sun will compete with any future IBM products with the three servers it launched July 11: the Sun Fire x4600, Sun Fire 8000 and Sun Fire x4500.

IBM's move would be welcome news for AMD, which has watched rival Intel Corp. seize the spotlight in recent weeks by announcing a handful of new chips, including the Montecito Itanium 2 and the Woodcrest Xeon 5100 for servers, the Conroe Core 2 Duo for desktops and the Merom Core 2 Duo for notebooks.

The Woodcrest processor has helped Intel to even the scales with Opteron, the chip that helped AMD win market share in recent quarters. Now AMD is planning to strike back with a planned Aug. 15 launch of a new Opteron design called "Rev. F."

The Opteron upgrade may be one reason why IBM would decide to expand its AMD-based server line, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

"It's ironic, because IBM was a critical early partner for AMD; they were the Tier 1 vendor up on stage at the Opteron launch," he said. "But since then, they have done relatively little compared to HP and Sun."

That may be because IBM wanted to preserve the investment in its own x3 chip set and already had its hands full supporting three chip architectures -- Intel's x86, and IBM's own Power5 and PowerPC.

"The Opteron was something of a second-class citizen at IBM," said Haff. "But with Opteron coming out in a new Rev. F version, it is a logical time for them to announce a broader product line as expected."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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